June 24, 2008

Roof focused on fixing Minnesota defense

Fear of failure? Ted Roof stares it down and refuses to flinch.

He knows what he's up against in his new post as Minnesota's defensive coordinator. He knows he's the Golden Gophers' sixth defensive coordinator since 2000 and third in the past three years. He knows no new defensive coordinator hired by a sitting coach faces more pressure or has a tougher job.

"Sure it's a challenge, but I like challenges," says Roof, who as coach at Duke over four years-plus years faced an uphill battle daily.

Roof's new job is a doozy: revive the nation's worst defense, a unit that yielded a jaw-dropping 518.7 yards per game and ranked 104th or worse in seven major defensive categories. Coach Tim Brewster needs the help after a 1-11 debut that saw last season's coordinator, Everett Withers, leave to become defensive coordinator at North Carolina.

Minnesota needs momentum a modicum of hope as it heads into a new on-campus stadium in 2009. The offense should be solid again, so that means the defense must go from god-awful to just awful if the Gophers hope to rise from the Big Ten cellar.

Roof reportedly will be paid $350,000, making him one of the highest-paid assistants in the Big Ten. And he'll earn it operating a defense that may feature as many as seven newcomers in the starting lineup.

"We have some good young players coming in," says Roof, who briefly was linebackers coach at Louisville after leaving Duke but before landing in Minnesota. "This is a great opportunity and Tim is a great guy to work for. He's such a positive person. But we have work to do."

Roof isn't alone. Following is a look at four other new defensive coordinators who were hired by sitting coaches who must produce now.

Jon Tenuta, Notre Dame. Corwin Brown has the coordinator title, while Tenuta is listed as the Irish's "assistant head coach/defense." But we all know who will be running this defense. Tenuta isn't getting paid between $300,000 and $400,000 a year just to offer suggestions. Tenuta has forged a reputation as one of the nation's best at scheming and game-planning. Notre Dame got a good look at Tenuta's complex and confounding blitzing style last fall in a 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech that featured nine sacks. In addition to schemes, Tenuta also will bring a mega-dose of attitude, which is needed for an Irish defense that needs a nasty edge. "I thought it was the worst Notre Dame defense we played," a coach of a Notre Dame rival told me. Tenuta isn't commenting. He's forging ahead with plans to have his trademark aggressive and attacking defense wreaking havoc so Notre Dame can rebound from last year's 3-9 disaster. While the offense was terrible, a defense that ranked 96th vs. the run and didn't generate enough turnovers also shouldered some blame. "I don't want to talk about what we don't have or compare the talent here to what we had at Georgia Tech," said Tenuta, who was courted by several schools before hooking up with Charlie Weis at the coaches convention in Anaheim, Calif., in January. "We have talent. And I'm not going to change the way I coach and what I do."

Paul Rhoads, Auburn. Tommy Tuberville tried to hire Rhoads from Pittsburgh a few years ago but was rebuffed. He got his man this time as Rhoads steps in to replace Will Muschamp, who took the DC role at Texas. "You will see us play aspects of the 4-3 we played at Pitt," Rhoads says. "We won't play as much man coverage as Will did. We will use zone pressure with some blitzes." Rhoads likes his talent but has concerns about the secondary. "We are thin," says Rhoads, who spent eight years at Pitt and left a lasting impression in his final game by limiting West Virginia to 183 yards in a 13-9 Panthers upset that denied the Mountaineers a shot at the national championship. "We may play some newcomers back there. And that can cause problems. But I like our chances."

Will Muschamp, Texas. Mack Brown knows where to go when he needs a coordinator to fix his defense: Auburn. It happened in 2005, when Brown nabbed Gene Chizik off The Plains. Next thing you know, the Longhorns are winning the national title. Chizik bolted after 2006 to become coach at Iowa State, and Texas' defense subsequently flopped last season under co-coordinators Duane Akina and Larry Mac Duff. Enter Muschamp, who replaced Chizik at Auburn and seems destined to follow Chizik's path to head-coaching fortunes if he can revive a Longhorns defense that ranked 53rd in the nation overall and 110th vs. the pass. No coordinator job has served as a better launching pad to big things recently than Texas'. Before Chizik, Greg Robinson used Texas' defensive coordinator role in 2004 to land the Syracuse coaching job. Muschamp, a Nick Saban disciple who was in the mix for head-coaching jobs at Georgia Tech and Arkansas, won't change much scheme-wise, but expect him to use many of the blitzes that have made him famous at Auburn. Still, with a developing secondary, Muschamp has to be prudent with how often he exposes his defensive backs to the man coverage he likes to play.

Ellis Johnson, South Carolina. The guy worked in obscurity in Starkville, Miss., the past four years and all he did was coordinate some of the most underrated defenses in the nation. Now Johnson has a chance to help Steve Spurrier finally get over the hump in Columbia, S.C. "I am so happy to be here," says Johnson, who is from South Carolina and used to coach at The Citadel. "This is a great opportunity. This is home." Johnson took a circuitous path to Carolina. He interviewed for the Gamecocks' coordinator job but was passed over and took the defensive coordinator's job at Arkansas under Bobby Petrino. But when Brian VanGorder left for the Atlanta Falcons shortly after taking the Gamecocks' post, Johnson quickly signed on. "It worked out in the end," says Johnson, who must toughen a Gamecocks run defense that ranked 111th in the nation.


Fresno State coach Pat Hill is jacked up. But that's nothing new. He always is excited.

He called me from Omaha, Neb., where he was watching his school compete in the College World Series. "You know where I can get a good steak?" he asks.

But Hill has more than baseball and choice cuts of meat on his mind. Hill is thinking big. His Bulldogs are loaded, a strong team that is rekindling memories of the 2001 squad that was ranked as high as No. 8 and finished 11-3.

"We should be good," Hill says. "But I don't think we'll be as good at linebacker as that team. That team in 2001 also was fortunate in that we didn't have any injuries until late in the season.

"But there's a lot to like about this team. We have depth at running back, receiver, defensive back and along the defensive line."

It's all about breaking through and being a BCS-buster, joining the likes of Utah, Boise State and Hawaii. Heck, at this point, Fresno would be happy to win the WAC, which hasn't happened since 1999.

But the deck is stacked against Hill and Fresno State. The biggest obstacle: seven road games and a lot of travel.

"With the rising cost of gas, we'll likely have to take smaller charter planes when we travel far," says Hill, whose team opens at Rutgers on Sept. 1. "That means we'll probably have to stop along the way to get more gas. We had to do that on our trip to LSU (a few years ago)."

Fresno and other potential BCS-busters also must deal with playing games on varying nights of the week. It's not uncommon for teams from non-BCS leagues to play on any night of the week.

"And that's tough," Hill says. "I'm not complaining. I know the TV exposure and money is good. But it can make for some quick turnarounds and short weeks. Schools like Oklahoma and Ohio State don't have to deal with stuff like that."

And that's a huge edge. But don't count out Hill's Bulldogs this fall.


Have you ever thought about how things may have been different had West Virginia beaten Pittsburgh in last season's "Backyard Brawl"?

I don't think Rich Rodriguez would have left Morgantown had WVU beaten Pitt and thus gotten a shot at the BCS title. With Rodriguez still at West Virginia, who would Michigan have hired?

Could the Wolverines have worked something out with LSU's Les Miles? If so, would Bo Pelini have remained in Baton Rouge as LSU's coach? And with Rodriguez at WVU, Miles at Michigan and Pelini at LSU, who would Nebraska have hired?


Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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